Clinton Cites New Security Steps After Libya Attack
WASHINGTON — In long-awaited testimony, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday asserted that she had moved quickly to improve the security of American diplomats after the September attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans and prompted a scathing review of State Department procedures.
“As I have said many times since Sept. 11, I take responsibility,” Mrs. Clinton said in a prepared statement. “Nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger and more secure.”
Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the morning, Mrs. Clinton choked up as she recounted the grim moment in September when she and President Obama received the bodies of the four Americans killed in the Benghazi attack at Joint Base Andrews, outside Washington.
“I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews,” she said. “I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters.”
Mrs. Clinton asserted that she was never made aware of the security requests from Benghazi by Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and his subordinates. “I did not see these requests,” she said. “They did not come to me. I did not approve them. I did not deny them.”
“These requests do not normally come to the secretary of state,” she added. “They are handled by security professionals in the department.”
She insisted that the measures she was taking would ensure that requests received high-level attention in the future.
The day of testimony — Mrs. Clinton was to appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the afternoon — has major political implications for the departing secretary of state, who has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.
Mrs. Clinton was to have testified in December, but her appearance was delayed by illness and then a concussion, which led to her brief hospitalization. Republicans have been insistent that Mrs. Clinton needed to testify about her own role before leaving her State Department post, and she readily agreed.
Mrs. Clinton first publicly took responsibility for the September attack in an Oct. 15 interview with television reporters. Since then, however, she has committed herself to putting in place all of the recommendations of the independent review that was led by Thomas R. Pickering, the former American ambassador, and Mike Mullen, the retired admiral who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In her prepared testimony, Mrs. Clinton sought to put the events in Benghazi in a broader regional context, noting the presence of a Qaeda-affiliated group in northern Mali.
“Benghazi didn’t happen in a vacuum,” she said. “The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region. And instability in Mali has created an expanding safe haven for terrorists who look to extend their influence and plot further attacks of the kind we saw just last week in Algeria.”
In her prepared remarks and in response to senators’ questions, Mrs. Clinton said the seizure of northern Mali in the past year by the Qaeda branch posed a growing danger to American interests in the region, as well as ultimately to the United States homeland.
“This is going to be a very serious, ongoing threat,” she said. “We are in for a struggle, but it is a necessary struggle. We cannot permit northern Mali to become a safe haven.”
Mrs. Clinton dismissed critics who have played down the threat from Qaeda fighters and other Islamist militants in Mali and across the Sahara because the insurgents have not yet targeted the American homeland. “You can’t say that because they haven’t done something they will never do it,” she said.